BRENNAN, JAMES, Wesleyan Methodist New Connexion minister; b. 1812 in Ireland; m. and had two daughters; d. 7 May 1866 at Hamilton, Canada West.
James Brennan came to Kitley Township, Upper Canada, as a child. The Brennan home was often visited by Henry Ryan* and James Jackson*, who seceded from the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1828 to found the Canadian Wesleyan Methodist Church, an independent Canadian sect which featured greater lay participation in its government. Through the influence of Jackson, James Brennan in 1830 decided to become a prayer leader, exhorter, and local preacher in this church, and in 1831 he was appointed an itinerant preacher on trial on the Lansdown circuit.
In 1833, Brennan was sent as superintendent minister to the Trafalgar circuit, where after two years he was received as a minister in full connection and transferred to the Goulbourn circuit. In 1836, in addition to his circuit duties he was responsible for serving the Lansdown District, comprising the Lansdown and Goulbourn circuits, as chairman. Brennan began in 1837 a series of four successive one-year stations. While at Waterford and St Thomas in 1839, he was chairman of the London District, and in 1840 he became chairman of the Welland Canal District.
The Canadian Wesleyan Church, under pressure from declining membership (which fell from 2,528 in 1835 to 1,879 in 1840), from a shortage of itinerant preachers, and from an unmanageable deficit, merged in 1841 with the English Methodist New Connexion Church to form the Canadian Wesleyan Methodist New Connexion Church. The Protestant Methodists joined the new church in 1843. The church in Canada was a mission of the church in Great Britain, and the Canadian superintendent was appointed by the British conference. Brennan was elected to preside at the annual conference in 1846, and in his presidential address declared that while his denomination had had “trials to pass through of a painful and disagreeable nature,” many circuits had built fine new churches and parsonage houses, which he considered signs of progress.
After terms at various places in both western and eastern Upper Canada, Brennan returned to Ancaster in 1848, and the following year became chairman of the Hamilton District extending from Owen Sound to the Welland Canal. With some circuits stretching across 70 miles and including as many as eight townships, Brennan often travelled 500 miles and preached 30 times every four weeks. In 1850 he was compelled to retire because of ill health. He settled in Hamilton as a supernumerary minister and assisted some adjacent circuits. After two years he was able to return to ministerial work, but in 1853 he was forced to retire permanently. He continued to give occasional service, and after a series of protracted meetings extending over a period of a month, arranged by the Cavan circuit in 1865, he suffered severe lung hemorrhages; he died the following year. The minutes of the conference of 1866 record that Brennan was “affectionately remembered as a powerful and effective preacher, a faithful and devoted pastor, and a Christian gentleman.”
The church with which he had been so closely identified since its founding in 1841 had suffered from the same lack of money and men as its predecessor and from the scattered nature of its circuits. Overshadowed by the larger Wesleyan Methodist and Methodist Episcopal churches, it made little headway in towns and cities and at its peak had only some 8,000 members. In 1874 it severed the connection with the British conference and merged with the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Canada.
Canadian Wesleyan Methodist Church, Minutes of the annual conference, (Hamilton, [Ont.]), 1835–36, 1839–41. Canadian Wesleyan Methodist New Connexion Church, Minutes of the annual conference (Hamilton, Toronto, London, [Ont.]), 1846, 1848–49, 1866. Christian Messenger (Montreal; Toronto), 1845–47. Cornish, Cyclopædia of Methodism, I. Albert Burnside, “The Canadian Wesleyan Methodist New Connexion Church, 1841–1874” (unpublished dth thesis, Toronto Graduate School of Theological Studies, 1967). The centenary of the Methodist New Connexion, 1797–1897, ed. George Packer (London, ). J. E. Sanderson, The first century of Methodism in Canada . . . (2v., Toronto, 1908–10), II. William Williams, “Historical sketch of the Methodist New Connexion Church in Canada,” Centennial of Canadian Methodism (Toronto, ), 95–126.